PALM BAY – The Viera Hawks found themselves in a tough predicament Friday afternoon … and that was before they even took the field to face a good Bayside High football team.
Not only would the Hawks be without starting quarterback Chase Cromartie due to a non-football injury that came up earlier in the day, but Viera would also be without running back Judah Knight and offensive lineman Maguire Pedrick as well.
Despite all that, as the Hawks walked off the field Friday night following a 21-14 loss to the host Bears, they couldn’t help but feel like they missed out on a chance to get their first win of the season.
Senior Dominick Gentile, stepping in for the injured sophomore Cromartie, threw two touchdown passes and ran for a two-point conversion Friday night for Viera. But some key penalties, and a tough Bayside team that controlled things up front proved to be too much to overcome.
“Anytime you’re playing a game without your starting quarterback and running back, you’re scrambling,” Viera coach Shane Staples said. “Dominick Gentile played a heck of a game tonight. We’ve been missing him all year (because of an injury).
“It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t at wideout tonight because he had a great week of practice at receiver. He found out he was the starting quarterback at 4:30 today. No reps all week.
“But as a senior, that’s why he’s a captain. He holds this team together. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
With sophomore Ryan Boobar taking over at running back, the Hawks had some success on offense early on, though it became increasingly hard to run as another Viera offensive lineman – Aiden Allen – went down with an injury.
Still, there were definitely some big moments for Viera.
Gentile, a former JV quarterback, completed 14 of 21 passes for 175 yards and the two touchdowns. He also ran nine times for 63 yards.
Mikey Schmidt had nine receptions for 67 yards and a TD. Zack Pillow had two catches for 85 yards and a score. Quincy Gillins caught two passes for 26 yards. Javon Cooper had one reception for five yards.
Boobar ran for 33 yards on eight carries.
Defensively, the Hawks got strong play from Logan Keith, Zane Humke, Owen George and Isaac Hungerbuhler.
Gentile hit sophomore Mikey Schmidt with a 3-yard touchdown pass with 3:40 remaining in the first quarter to give the Hawks their first lead of the season. Unfortunately for Viera, the extra-point was missed, so the lead was 6-0.
Bayside (4-2) would come right back, relying largely on its running game and some timely passing as the Bears’ offensive line was able to get a good push up front. A touchdown with 26 seconds remaining in the quarter put the Bears up 7-6.
It would become 14-6 when Bayside would take advantage of an interception off a tipped ball and go in for the touchdown. What happened afterward was typical of what’s plagued the Hawks in recent seasons.
First, there was an unsportsmanlike penalty on Bayside’s extra point, which moved the ball up on the kickoff. The Bears went for an onside kick and recovered it at the Viera 33. The Hawks then recorded a sack … and another unsportsmanlike penalty.
Viera would actually get out of the drive unscathed as the defense rose up and Bayside turned the ball over on downs. But as the past few years have shown, the Hawks simply don’t have the margin for error to be making emotional mistakes like that if they hope to win.
Backed up on his own 25, Gentile and sophomore Zack Pillow hooked up on a big play when a Bayside defender bit on the short route and Pillow was able to sneak free down the field, then outrun the defense to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown.
The Hawks went for two and Gentile raced around the right side and into the end zone to tie up the game at 14-14 with 1:52 left in the half.
Viera had a chance to go to halftime with some momentum, but Bayside ripped off a long kickoff return, combined with a facemask penalty on the Hawks, and took the lead right back 43 seconds later.
There was no scoring in the second half, though the Bayside defense was able to convert on a long fourth-down run and the Bayside defense turned up the heat and came up with a late interception that sealed the victory.
“We were in the game,” Staples said. “It could have gone either way.
“… Like I told them, we’re not good enough to give up big plays and penalties. Obviously, we gave up three or four big plays and we can’t do that. A dropped pass led to an interception. We gave up 30-40-yard passes on easy coverages where we messed up the play.
“But these guys are staying together. We’re not out of it.”
Staples certainly isn’t wrong. The Hawks have continued to play hard – and together – throughout the season as they now head toward the most crucial part of their season. Viera is set to host Harmony (3-2) in its Class 4S, District 11 opener.
“The next three games are the season,” Staples said. “That’s the real season, the next three weeks. I’ve said it all year long, these guys don’t give up. We’re out there fighting.”